In a way, Union goalie Troy Grosenick is a microcosm of what the Dutchmen are all about.
After ranking near the top of virtually every national category and leading the Dutchmen to their first Frozen Four in his inaugural season as a starter, it might seem easy for the junior to relax a bit entering this year.
“Are you a great goalie or are you the best in the country?” said Union coach Rick Bennett of Grosenick, who was among the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award last season. “[Troy] wants to prove to himself first and foremost that he is the best goaltender in the country.”
The same goes for the rest of the Dutchmen. Don’t expect them to settle for last year’s Frozen Four appearance, even as the program faces unprecedented national attention entering this season, opening the year at No. 5 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. (Union has since dropped to 10th following a 4-1 loss to Merrimack in its opener Saturday.)
“We’d rather have the pressure than not have the pressure,” Bennett said. “That’s the way we look at it.”
If Union does make its third straight NCAA tournament appearance, it’ll do so minus several of its biggest players both off and on the ice.
Center Kelly Zajac and defender Nolan Julseth-White graduated, while center Jeremy Welsh left a year early to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes, making his pro debut in the season finale against Florida.
“There are players that help you win championships and there are players that are the reason you win championships,” Bennett said. “Jeremy Welsh was a reason. Kelly Zajac was another, [along] with Nolan Julseth-White.”
Still, the Dutchmen bring plenty back, led by Grosenick in net. Junior Daniel Carr has scored 20 goals in each of his first two seasons, while senior forward Wayne Simpson has posted back-to-back 30-point seasons and is a solid forechecker.
Brothers Kyle and Mat Bodie have each been productive during their time in Schenectady. Kyle, a forward, scored more points last year than his first two years combined, while Mat earned All-American honors as a sophomore and was named team captain for this season.
Incoming freshmen Matt Wilkins and Sebastien Gingras should make an immediate impact. Wilkins, a forward, led the Alberta Junior Hockey League in scoring last season, while Gingras adds a right-handed shot from the blue line and on the power play, something Bennett said the Dutchmen haven’t had in recent seasons.
“We’re not going to have the top recruiting classes. That’s just fine with us. We always get the most out of what we have,” Bennett said, referencing sophomore Max Novak, who scored nine goals last year after being cut from his USHL team and winding up with the New Jersey Hitmen of the ECHL.
Like Novak, the Dutchmen will have to put the past in the past and focus solely on what’s on hand.
“The giving tree is all done,” Bennett said, referring to the number of accolades and memorabilia the Dutchmen received in the offseason. “It’s time to start taking.”
About the Dutchmen
2011-12 overall record: 26-8-7
2011-12 ECAC record: 14-4-4 (first)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): First
Key losses: F Jeremy Welsh, F Kelly Zajac, D Nolan Julseth-White
Players to watch: F Kyle Bodie, F Wayne Simpson, F Daniel Carr, D Mat Bodie, G Troy Grosenick
Impact rookies: F Matt Wilkins, D Sebastien Gingras
Why the Dutchmen will match their selection in the coaches’ poll: The Dutchmen are slotted in the top spot for a reason. Not only are they talented, but the players really seem to embrace the no-nonsense, humble approach put forward by Bennett and his staff.
Why the Dutchmen will finish lower than the coaches’ poll: Union can’t replace the points and leadership that left with Welsh and Zajac, and the target on their back becomes too much for them to handle.